Why Hospice Music Therapy is Changing End-of-Life Care

Music therapy in hospice care is a proven method in which trained and certified music therapists use musical interventions to address the psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients and their families who are in hospice care. This therapeutic application of music can operate in diverse ways within these care environments.

Key takeaways

  • Hospice music therapy reduces anxiety and improves mood for hospice patients through techniques like songwriting and improvisation.
  • Certified music therapists address physical symptoms like pain while meeting emotional needs.
  • Familiar songs spark joy and help patients tap into meaningful memories from their lives.
  • Music provides a creative outlet for expressing feelings and enhancing communication near end of life.
  • Personalized music interventions align with hospice’s whole-person care philosophy and integrate into treatment plans.
Hospice Music Therapists working in end of life care

Defining Music Therapy in Hospice Care

In short, music therapy utilizes music experiences and the relationships developed through them to address the unique needs of hospice patients. The goals are to nurture and enhance their quality of life through music. Sessions are tailored to each patient’s interests, abilities, background, and condition. Music therapists assess patients to create personalized treatment plans and evaluate the effects of music therapy interventions.

The Role of A Music Therapist in Hospice Care

Board-certified music therapists are responsible for designing and leading music therapy sessions. They have completed approved academic and clinical training programs. Their role involves:

  • Assessing cognitive, psychological, physical, emotional, and social needs
  • Developing personalized treatment plans
  • Leading active music therapy interventions
  • Providing support through passive music listening
  • Evaluating and documenting patient responses

They collaborate closely with the hospice interdisciplinary team to integrate music therapy into the plan of care.

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The Process of a Typical Music Therapy Session

Sessions are often 30-60 minutes in length and occur 1-2 times per week, individually or in a small group. The music therapist greets the patient, assesses current needs, and engages the patient in meaningful music experiences like singing, instrument playing, songwriting, or listening activities. The therapist is responsive in the moment to meet emerging needs. At the end of a session, the therapist documents responses to share with the care team.

hospice music therapists working with hospice patient

How Hospice Music Therapy Enhances Patient’s Quality of Life

Hospice music therapy provides many evidence-based benefits that can greatly enhance quality of life for hospice patients. Therapeutic music interventions have been shown to positively impact mood, manage symptoms, create meaningful experiences, and meet the holistic needs of patients and families.

The Impact of Music Therapy on Patient Mood and Emotions

Music directly impacts the limbic system of the brain which regulates emotions and mood. Hospice music therapy can:

  • Decrease anxiety and depression
  • Improve relaxation and happiness
  • Provide comfort through familiar songs
  • Create positive associations and memories
  • Allow safe expression of feelings

Uses of Music in Symptom Management and Relaxation

Music can help manage common hospice symptoms like pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, and more. Interventions incorporate music for:

  • Deep breathing and meditation
  • Muscle relaxation techniques
  • Distraction from unpleasant symptoms
  • Motivation during physical therapy

Evidence-Based Benefits of Music Therapy for Hospice Patients

Research shows music therapy improves:

  • Pain management
  • Quality of life
  • Satisfaction with hospice care
  • Communication between patient, family and staff
  • Family coping and adjustment
  • Patient-family intimacy and closeness

Meeting the Unique Needs of Hospice Patients Through Music

One of the great benefits of music therapy is the ability to completely personalize treatment to meet each patient’s unique needs. Hospice patients have a wide range of holistic needs that music can help address, including life review and reminiscence work, legacy and funeral planning, grief processing and closure, opportunities for spiritual experiences, creative expression and social engagement with loved ones. The music therapist draws from a diverse toolbox of interventions to pinpoint how to best utilize music experiences for each individual in hospice care.

hospice music therapist meeting the needs of patients through music

How Hospice Music Helps with Memory and Cognitive Revitalization

In addition to quality of life benefits, hospice music therapy also provides valuable cognitive stimulation and memory support for hospice patients. Musical experiences and interventions can enhance mental functioning and help access meaningful memories.

The Power of Music Therapy in Stimulating Memories

Familiar songs from the past can trigger vivid memories and emotions that may have become dormant. Music is often preserved when other functions decline. Singing long-remembered songs helps hospice patients reconnect with their history and share meaningful recollections with loved ones.

Understanding Cognitive Benefits of Music Therapy

Engaging in active music making incorporates many aspects of cognitive functioning like attention, information processing, executive function, and working memory. Rhythmic auditory stimulation can improve motor skills. Lyrical analysis promotes language skills. Research shows music therapy boosts orientation, recall, and mood in dementia patients.

Evaluating the Effects of Music Therapy on Mental Health of Hospice Patients

Studies evaluating hospice music therapy’s effects on hospice patients found participants showed:

  • Increased focus and concentration
  • More spontaneous communication
  • Enhanced ability to express thoughts and feelings
  • Improved verbalization and vocabulary
  • Increased socialization and connection

Music therapists document patients’ responses during interventions to identify impactful “music moments.” These occur when a piece of music profoundly stimulates a memory, emotion, or state of being. Recognizing these moments allows therapists to recreate meaningful experiences through music.

hospice music therapists discovering moments with patient

Songs for Hospice Patients

Selecting the Right Music

  • Soothing and Familiar: Choose songs with soft, soothing melodies, often instrumental or classical, to create a tranquil environment.
  • Personal Significance: Include favorite songs from the patient’s youth or tracks with deep emotional connections.

Emotional and Spiritual Impact

  • Lyrically Meaningful: Opt for songs whose lyrics resonate with the patient’s experiences, evoking comfort and memories.
  • Faith-Based Choices: For those with spiritual beliefs, include religious or spiritual songs that provide hope and peace.

Music in hospice care is more than just background sound; it’s a therapeutic tool tailored to each individual’s journey, offering comfort, nostalgia, and emotional support.

Why Every Hospice and Palliative Care Should Consider Music Therapy

Given the wide-ranging benefits, hospice music therapy should be a standard component of quality hospice and palliative care. Music interventions align closely with hospice’s whole-person philosophy.

The Importance of Music Therapy in Palliative Care

The World Health Organization recognizes music therapy as a critical part of palliative care. Music provides patients an outlet for expressing fears, anxieties, and hopes. It can strengthen family connections and bring joy amid grief. Many consider it a vital spiritual need at end of life.

Criteria for Determining Whether Music Therapy is Appropriate for a Hospice Patient

Most patients can benefit from music therapy, but some key factors determine appropriateness:

  • Patient musical background and preferences
  • Physical and cognitive abilities
  • Emotional and spiritual needs
  • Openness to a new experience
  • Family involvement and feedback

The therapist conducts an initial assessment to gauge fit.

Using Music Therapy as a Form of Intervention in Hospice Settings

Music therapy can work alongside other treatments or provide an alternative for patients resistant to traditional interventions. It is considered an integrative modality. Goals of music therapy align with hospice’s aims of comfort, connection, closure, and quality of life.

The Role of Board-Certified Music Therapists in This Health Profession

Properly credentialed music therapists have the clinical training to address needs that general musicians cannot. They are accountable professionals who abide by HIPAA, document progress, and communicate with care teams. Their expertise makes music therapy successful in hospice settings.

Learn More About Music Therapy in Hospice Settings

For hospice professionals interested in utilizing music therapy or patients and families hoping to access it, many resources provide further information and assistance.

Important Certifications in Hospice Music Therapy

Reputable music therapists pursue certification demonstrating their qualifications, like the MT-BC credential from the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Qualified therapists have completed internships and passed board exams.

The Growing Demand for Music Therapy in Hospice Care

Research continues to demonstrate music therapy’s benefits for quality of life. More hospices now offer music therapy services. Medicaid and some private insurers cover sessions when led by credentialed providers.

How to Access Hospice Music Therapy for a Loved One

Ask social workers or care teams about availability. If not offered, request a referral. Outpatient music therapy outside of hospice is also an option. Seek board-certified providers.

Case Studies Showing the Impact of Music Therapy on Hospice Patient Outcomes

Many studies showcase how music therapy improved pain, anxiety, isolation, and communication for hospice patients and families. Reading case examples shows the profound real-world impact.

Resources to Learn More About Music Therapy Techniques

Visit the websites of the American Music Therapy Association and Certification Board for Music Therapists. Connect with hospice music therapy professionals on social media. Attend trainings and conferences to learn current techniques.


What is hospice care and how does it incorporate music therapy?

A: Hospice care focuses on maximizing the quality of life for individuals facing terminal illness. One innovative approach increasingly being incorporated into hospice care plans is music therapy. This is the clinical and evidence-based use of music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of the patient. Through “music care” individualized to patients’ responses and experiences, certified music therapists working in hospice aim to benefit patients and their caregivers, offering therapeutic benefits and improving patients’ total well-being.

What techniques are used in hospice music therapy?

A: Techniques used in music therapy include performance, improvisation, songwriting, and guided imagery paired with music. Certified music therapists use these techniques to meet the unique needs of each hospice patient, whether helping them express emotions and memories, or decrease symptoms like pain or anxiety. This makes music therapy a versatile and adaptive healthcare approach.

Can anyone benefit from music therapy in hospice care?

A: Absolutely, people with varying abilities can gain benefit from music therapy. The beauty of therapy in hospice and palliative care settings is that it is non-invasive and music is non-threatening, adaptable to individuals’ abilities and preferences. This can promote participation, even in those who may be resistant to other healthcare interventions.

How might music therapy improve a patient’s mood in hospice care?

A: In their hands, “music” becomes a tool to spark joy, evoke positive memories, and provide a soothing environment. This can significantly improve the mood of patients receiving music therapy, allowing them to connect with happier periods of their life and find momentary relief from their current situation.

Can music therapy help manage symptoms in hospice patients?

A: Yes, music therapy can help manage several symptoms common in hospice patients. This includes pain, anxiety, and even physiological symptoms such as reducing blood pressure. The care provided by music therapists has been shown to have an impact on both physical and emotional well-being, making it a valuable inclusion in the care that may be provided to patients in hospice.

How do music therapists individualize care in hospice settings?

A: Music therapists consider the needs of the patient, taking into account their musical preferences, physical and emotional state, and their ability to participate. Therapists then tailor the therapy to suit these individual needs, using various music therapy techniques. This level of personalization ensures the care provided is patient-centered and meets the individual’s unique needs.

How do music therapists address emotions and memories in hospice care?

A: Music has the power to unlock emotions and memories. Music therapists use this power therapeutically, allowing patients to express their feelings, recall memories, and process their experiences. This can provide a cathartic release for patients, helping them come to terms with their reality and find some comfort in their memories.

How do families benefit from music therapy in hospice care?

A: Music therapy can support not only patients but also their families. It can offer a means of communication when words fail, provide shared experiences and emotions, and even allow for family participation. Additionally, seeing their loved ones derive pleasure from the therapy can bring comfort to the families.

Is music therapy officially recognized as a health profession in hospice care?

A: Yes, music therapy is a recognized health profession with a strong clinical and evidence-based foundation. Certified music therapists possess a depth of knowledge in music, psychology, and healthcare, making them well-equipped to navigate and contribute to the interdisciplinary realm of hospice care.

Can music therapy be conducted in group settings in hospice care?

A: Yes, while individual sessions are common, group settings are also used. This might involve other patients, family members, or even the inclusion of other arts therapies. The core objective remains the same, but the techniques are used in a manner appropriate for a group, fostering connection, providing shared emotional experiences, and often supporting a united, soothing environment in the process.

What Kinds of Music are Chosen for Hospice Patients?

Music chosen for hospice patients often includes soothing melodies and familiar tunes that can evoke comfort, memories, and emotional support.

How Does End of Life Music Therapy Help?

End of life music therapy focuses on using music to ease pain, provide emotional comfort, and assist in memory recall during the final stages of life.

What Songs are Used in Hospice Music Therapy?

Songs used in hospice music therapy are typically selected for their calming effects, lyrical relevance, or personal significance to the patient.

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Kendra Sanders

🏥 I have a passion for helping agencies find the best learning solutions for their unique needs. Let's explore home care & hospice topics and strive to improve patient care. Plant momma 🌱, hiker 🥾 & foodie 🍲.